Three episodes in the last two days that refuse to support the myth that the United Methodist Church is doomed to age slowly, wither up, and die:
1) On Sunday, we sent a youth mission team and their adult chaperones to Memphis, Tennessee for the week. It was a smallish team, and that fact itself will cause some people to say, “See, told ya,” as if merely counting heads is enough to forecast the downfall of the church. Rather, I want to describe the spirit of the group.
The entire trip is being led by volunteer leadership; the Youth Director is not even on this trip. And the group is tweeting updates and pictures @campbellyouth so that we can keep tabs on everything they’re doing. The group is excited, motivated, dedicated, and having a great experience.
It’s really hard for me to participate in denominational gloom and doom when something wonderful like this is happening.
2) I baptized a seventeen year old girl on Sunday. Her family was surrounding her, along with some other high school friends. She started coming to worship here a few months ago because one of her friends invited her. And she comes by herself; her family stays home on Sundays, although she tells me she’s “working on them.”
One teenager, reaching out to another and inviting them to come to church, and a few months later, a baptism. And from here … who knows? She is a disciple of Jesus Christ, and is worshiping every week, studying the Bible with a small group of friends at school, and volunteering her service through participating in multiple groups in the community. She is changing the world, for God’s sake!
I just can’t seem to wring my hands to much about “irrelevance” when I see things like this going on.
3) At the memorial service for his grandmother, a teenager in our congregation shared a poignant remembrance. It was sad and funny and a fitting tribute to a beautiful woman whose love and joy and care for her family was inspiring to all who knew her. He allowed me to read it on his behalf as a part of the service.
And he closed his remarks with these sentences:
“It’s hard losing someone as great as my Grandma. She fought a long and hard battle with cancer. And trust me she did not give up. She is a fighter.
And I know now that she is in a much better and more comfortable place with our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, whom she loves and trusts. And I couldn’t ask God any more than to treat my Grandma as well as she treated me.”
This kid, who is as quiet and reserved as they come, had expressed the grief of the people gathered in the room in such an eloquent, powerful way, that the sanctuary was completely transformed. Each and every person there was unified by a common experience of “YES” and the Holy Spirit was profuse within and around all of us.
For some reason, it’s kind of tricky for me to be all worried about ineffective agency structures this afternoon.
I know, I know … a few anecdotes do not negate all the statistics and “big picture” trends and whatnot. I get it; I’m not naïve.
But I also believe with all my heart that renewal in the church will happen in the form of the anecdotes that I have mentioned above, not in grand denominational reconfigurations and programs and conferences and meetings and plans and schemes and all those things we seem to be trying to do.
One person at a time. Slowly. Oh so slowly. Yet inevitably. Inexhaustibly. With the certainty of hope.
I love the church. I love the United Methodist Church. I love Campbell United Methodist Church. And I refuse to participate in myth-making when it comes to the future. I can’t, because I have witnessed that “future” present in the here-and-now, and it is phenomenal!